Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pot au Feu

Pot-au-Feu, "Pot on the Fire," is one of those classic dishes in world cuisine that takes many forms with regional variations. This is winter food that reminds you of home and hearth. Essentially, it's just the French way to do a basic beef stew. Usually it's made with cheap cuts of meat like oxtail. This is a relatively easy recipe, but like all good stews and soups it takes time to develop and simmer.


from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook
(thanks Meg and Seb)

1 lb. paleron of beef or "chicken steak" or brisket
6 pieces of oxtail, cut 1 1/2 inches thick
6 beef short ribs*
1 veal shank**
8 whole cloves
2 Onions, cut in half
6 leeks, white part only
2 small celery roots (celeriac), cut into quarters
4 carrots, cut into 4-inch lengths
1 bouquet garni
salt and pepper
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in half
1 head of cabbage, cored and cut into 6 to 8 wedges
1/2 lb cornichons
1 Cup large-grained sea salt
1 Cup hot prepared mustard

a really big pot
3 medium ramekins
marrow spoon (you can use the back end of an iced-tea spoon)
serving platter (a bloody big one)
soup terrine

Serves 6***

In the huge pot, combine the steak, oxtail, short ribs, and veal shank and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and as soon as the water comes to a boil, remove from the heat. Set the meats aside and throw out the water. Clean the pot. Seriously, do it. Then put the meat right back inside. Push 2 cloves into each onion half and add the onions to the pot, along with the leeks, celery roots, carrots, and bouquet garni. Season with salt and pepper and cover with cold water.

Bring the pot to a slow simmer, gradually, and let cook over medium-low heat for around 2 1/2 hours, or until the meat is tender. Skim the cooking liquid with a ladle periodically to remove scum and foam. Add the potatoes and cabbage and cook for an additional 30 minutes, until soft. You want to maintain the structural integrity of the meat and vegetables. Adjust the seasoning as needed.

Put the cornichons, sea salt, and mustard in the ramekins and set on the table. Remove the chicken seat (or brisket) from the pot and cut into 6 pieces. Remove the veal shank from the pot and cut the meat off the bone, again into 6 to 8 pieces. Using the marrow spoon, dig out all that lovely marrow from the inside of the veal bone. Arrange the oxtails, the meats, the marrow, and the vegetables in an attractively disheveled fashion on the serving platter and spoon some of the cooking liquid over and around it. Serve the rest of the liquid is a soup terrine.

Alternatively, you can arrange the meats uncarved, with the vegetables around them, swimming in broth in a big, beautiful pile in a deep serving platter, and let your friends just tear at it like the savage animals they are. (I'm getting hungry just writing this recipe.)

Tay's Notes
Bourdain call this "comfort food for socialists"--I understand why. This is home-food. You can easily imagine a winter home where the only heat is the kitchen stove with a pot continuously boiling. Like I said, a relatively easy recipe to make. Nice for a dinner party since most of the work is front-loaded. Once you have everything stewing in the pot you can either focus on other dishes or simply be entertaining your guests.

I served this with Gratin Dauphinois, which is a nice creamy potato gratin. I rounded out the meat-and-starch by serving a leek vinaigrette salad course (Blanched the leeks, then plated and drizzled on a generous helping of sauce gribiche.) I paired all of it with a Pinot Noir. We had our guests bring dessert, but if that was my responsibility I would have probably gone for Crème brûlée. You make it the day before and just do the caramelized-sugar topping before you serve. In fact, you could even do this at the table with a propane torch if you want to delight your guests. BTW, if you are trying to make an impression, why not use a full-size plumbers torch instead of one of those little "kitchen torches"?

Consider serving this with a crusty french bread to sop up some of that goodness.

If you serve this with plates, it's not clear what to do with that terrine of soup. Peter Hertzmann says that the broth was served, traditionally, as a separate soup course before the meat and veggies, and that makes a lot of sense to me, especially if you allow the broth to cook down some more after you remove the meat and vegetables (perhaps keeping them warm in the over).

* For short ribs, I used 6 short rib pieces, rather than 6 actual short ribs.

** The the Veal Shank is lovely. An Ossobuco cut is fine, too.

***6 Guests? Baloney, Tony! This recipe just about filled my 12 quart pot, so I would say it easily feeds 8 to 12 guests! Seriously. Especially if you are serving it with side dishes.

This is an adaptable recipe. If you have a good relationship with a butcher you can work something out and use more morrow bones and scrap cuts, etc. Stews forgive many sins!

If you want more on the history of this dish, I suggest the excellent article on Peter Hertzmann's blog.

Next on my list of canonical french dishes to try--cassoulet!


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